Pro­ducer of ‘Rocky’ and ‘Rag­ing Bull’


Los Angeles Times - - OBITUARIES - By Steve Chawkins

Robert Chartoff, an Os­car-win­ning Hol­ly­wood pro­ducer who got a tan­ta­liz­ing peek into show busi­ness in the Catskills and went on to make six “Rocky” films, “Rag­ing Bull,” “The Right Stuff ” and nearly two dozen other movies, has died at his home in Santa Mon­ica. He was 81.

Chartoff, who died Wed­nes­day, had been di­ag­nosed with pan­cre­atic can­cer two years ago, his son Wil­liam said.

Most of Chartoff ’s films were col­lab­o­ra­tions with Ir­win Win­kler, his pro­duc­ing part­ner from 1967 to 1985. Over the years, their movies cap­tured 12 Os­cars and 40 nom­i­na­tions, with “Rocky” win­ning best-pic­ture hon­ors in 1977.

The two shot Sylvester Stal­lone’s story about Rocky Bal­boa in 28 days.

Re­sist­ing stu­dio pres­sure to cast a big­ger name than the rel­a­tively un­known Stal­lone as Rocky, they spent $950,000. “Rocky,” which Chartoff de­scribed as “the per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of the Amer­i­can Dream,” ul­ti­mately earned more than $200 mil­lion.

“I kind of be­lieved we had some­thing spe­cial,” he told in­ter­viewer Steven Prigge in 2004. “I never be­lieved we would cap­ture the whole world’s imag­i­na­tion the way we did.”

For Chartoff, the path to Hol­ly­wood led through the Borscht Belt, where his un­cle, Char­lie Rapp, booked tal­ent for more than 100 re­sorts.

As a col­lege stu­dent, Chartoff worked sum­mers at the re­sorts, first as a waiter and then as an as­sis­tant to Rapp. Af­ter Columbia Law School and a brief, un­sat­is­fy­ing stint as a lawyer, he signed on with Rapp as an agent.

As Win­kler re­counted the story to Va­ri­ety in 1999, Chartoff ’s un­cle was skep­ti­cal.

“I don’t think this is for you,” Rapp told his am­bi­tious nephew, “but I have this young comic and I think he’s good, and I’ll give him to you as a grad­u­a­tion present. You can be his manager.”

The comic was Jackie Ma­son, who sud­denly gained a na­tional au­di­ence af­ter Chartoff booked him on Jack Paar’s “Tonight Show.”

Af­ter Chartoff teamed up with Win­kler, who was then a young agent in New York, they took off. When they landed Julie Christie for MGM’s “Dr. Zhivago,” the stu­dio asked them to pro­duce “Dou­ble Trou­ble” — a 1967 ef­fort that was “re-gen­dered” with Elvis Pres­ley in the lead in­stead of Christie.

They col­lab­o­rated on nu­mer­ous projects over the next few years, in­clud­ing “Point Blank” (1967), “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They” (1969), and “The New Cen­tu­ri­ons” (1971).

Their big­gest smash, though, was “Rocky,” which Chartoff de­scribed in Prigge’s “Movie Moguls Speak: In­ter­views With Top Film Pro­duc­ers,” as “one of the great­est ex­pe­ri­ences of my life.”

Stal­lone, who men­tioned that he had an idea for a boxing pic­ture as an af­ter­thought in a meet­ing with Chartoff and Win­kler, wrote the script in six weeks.

On the last day of shoot­ing, Chartoff pre­sented him with a leather-bound pad and a pen.

“I walked up to him and said, ‘Now go write the se­quel,’ ” Chartoff said.

Born on Aug. 26, 1933, in New York City, Robert Ir­win Chartoff was the son of Wil­liam Chartoff, a cel­list and bass player for the New York Phil­har­monic, and his wife, Bessie.

He grew up in the Bronx and at­tended Union Col­lege in Sch­enec­tady, N.Y.

While he was known for the “Rocky” films and “Rag­ing Bull” (1980), the wrench­ing story of mid­dleweight Jake LaMotta, Chartoff was not a big fan of the ring.

“Per­son­ally I don’t even like boxing,” he told Prigge. “I like movies and I like solid drama, and I feel both movies are filled with them.”

In 1983, Chartoff and Win­kler pro­duced “The Right Stuff,” but they al­most fiz­zled be­fore the launch. Sen. John Glenn pri­vately ex­pressed con­cerns that the film would be some­thing on the line of “Lau­rel and Hardy Go to Space” and urged NASA to cancel its planned co­op­er­a­tion with the pro- duc­ers.

“We were go­ing to shoot at Ames Re­search Cen­ter, and we needed to use their wind tun­nel and spe­cial ex­er­cise bikes and a lot of testing equip­ment like the ‘hu­man milk­shake ma­chine,’ ” Chartoff later told the Wash­ing­ton Post. “Sud­denly, right at the cru­cial time, it had been taken away from us.”

In an emer­gency meet­ing with NASA ad­min­is­tra­tors, Chartoff calmed their fears and the film­ing pro­ceeded. “The Right Stuff ” won crit­i­cal ac­claim and four Os­cars.

In ad­di­tion to his son Wil­liam, Chartoff ’s sur­vivors in­clude his wife, Jenny Wey­man Chartoff; chil­dren Mi­randa, Charley, Julie and Jenifer; and 10 grand­chil­dren.

His ear­lier mar­riages to Phyl­lis Raphael and Vanessa Howard ended in di­vorce.

Chartoff was in­volved in a num­ber of phi­lan­thropies. For more than 20 years, he kept close touch with a school he started for the chil­dren of “un­touch­ables” in the In­dian town of Bodh Gaya.

On a sort of spir­i­tual quest there with a friend who was a Bud­dhist monk, Chartoff was struck by the poverty they en­coun­tered.

“He met two boys who fol­lowed him around,” Wil­liam Chartoff said, “and he went to their par­ents to ask if he could pay for their ed­u­ca­tion.”

He wound up start­ing the Jen­nifer School, “and those two boys grew into thou­sands.” steve.chawkins@la­

As­so­ci­ated Press

HON­ORS FOR ‘ROCKY’ Robert Chartoff, right, with part­ner Ir­win Win­kler, left, and “Rocky” star Sylvester Stal­lone af­ter re

ceiv­ing Golden Globe awards in 1977. The part­ners also pro­duced “The Right Stuff.”

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